An Interview for BreakThru Radio

I was recently interviewed for BreakThru Radio for a story on cults. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“There was a lot of behavior modification from the way we dressed to the way we talked,” [Lisa Kerr] tells BTR. “We had every moment planned out for us, so we didn’t have a lot of contact with the outside world.”

After high school graduation, Kerr moved to Austin, Texas to be with the group. Secluding her in a dormitory-styled building, her days consisted of eating, sleeping, and praying one hour each day with the group.

Benscoter experienced similar isolation as she was tasked with fundraising for the church.

“I was cut off from my family and I was made to believe that Satan was working through them. These techniques were used to control my thought processes, decisions, my view on the world,” she recounts. “One of the most power tools of mental manipulation is religion.”

Both Benscoter and Kerr’s experiences instilled a belief that they could not leave; however, both eventually found a way with the support of their families.

Kerr describes her breakaway as a gradual falling apart after three major events, which reveal just how strongly the Master’s Commission controlled her life. Firstly she was not granted permission by the church to attend college to pursue her dreams as a writer. Then, her pastor revoked his permission for her to date a guy from within the church. Her disillusionment was finally cemented when her parents visited and offered her a way out.

For Benscoter the path was far less simple and despite being initially dissatisfied by aspects of the Unification Church she remained very committed even after her parents expressed concern. Her mother wanted to hire a deprogrammer to hold her against her will; however Benscoter willingly agreed to meet with them.

“I was very resistant at first, but after some time I started listening to what they had to say,” she says. “I agreed to talk to them because I believed that I was certain in my faith so I was surprised when a lot of what they said made sense for me.”

It took many years of counseling and volunteer work at a cult rehabilitation center for her to move past it all, with music playing the largest part in her recovery as it helped her reconnect with the world and herself.

Overall, the experience made her more cynical and critical, she says, and she will not believe anything without the facts.

Kerr experienced a lot more hate when leaving the Master’s Commission. Initially silent, she began to feel like she was being watched from social media.

“They wanted to appear like they were my friend [but] it was almost as if they were there to spy on me and report back to them,” she describes. Her fears were confirmed when some of the pastors’ wives called her and claimed they’d heard she wasn’t doing well.

Kerr says this went on for almost a year after she left. On one occasion, after she posted a picture on her Myspace account wearing a tank top revealing some cleavage, the comments became nasty. (Part of the strict dress code of the Master’s Commission was not to show cleavage.)

“You start to question your morality and whether you even have a good side,” she says. “Deep down you know that you do, but you have been taught that the things you are doing are bad. [After leaving], for me this was just experiencing a normal college life.”

According to van Twist, there’s a misconception that people who join cults were vulnerable in some way, however that is untrue.

“Research has found that even the most controversial groups appeal to white middle-class Americans [like Benscoter and Kerr],” she says.

You can read the full article here.

My debut on Huffington Post’s TED Weekends

I’ve been an avid reader of Huffington Post for years now. Last week I was emailed by an editor asking me to write for their TED Weekends. The topic was cults and they were featuring Diane Benscoter’s TED talk from 2009 about visual memetics and how cults rewire the brain. It was fascinating and of course I was honored. I said yes.

Fast forward to yesterday. The article was posted and it even appeared on HuffPo’s front page.

That's me, on the front page of Huffington Post!
That’s me, on the front page of Huffington Post!
(On the middle left where it says “TED Weekends”.)


It was quite a surreal moment. I was at work and I kept telling my favorite people at work, “It’s on the front page! OMG! Next to the President!”

I worked hard on the article, reading, researching and rewriting. My faithful friends did a lot of reading and rereading and editing over the entire week. I can’t thank them enough.

The beauty of all of this is I’ve also received my own HuffPo blog. This means a lot to me because I work with so many survivors (not to mention I write often about women’s issues and other topics) and I’ve been working hard to build my platform so I could help them tell their stories. It’s a great opportunity.

ted weekends post


The entire article can be read here. Please comment and share it with your friends! It would mean so much to me to get the word out about Master’s Commission and the dangers of Christian youth programs. The article will remain up until this Friday when a new TED Weekends subject is posted. (The article will remain on the site, just not on the front page, so it’s crucial to share it this week.)